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KR victims should speak for themselves

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the decision to appoint Dr Helen Jarvis to head the KR tribunal Victim's Unit.

While Dr Jarvis may be a Cambodian citizen, I did not read anywhere in your article that she or her family or relatives were victims of the Khmer Rouge. The nationality issue, or indeed her own politics [she has probably a much better track record than most expatriates living in Cambodia] are surely not the issue. Whether or not Dr Jarvis can be the "effective interlocuter" who Carla Ferstman of Redress suggests is actually needed is the issue.  

Both Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, and Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights, are not being "unfair", "discriminatory" or "racist" as suggested by the court spokesperson, Reach Sambath.

Rather, they raise a legitimate query.

Cambodians who perceive that they were victims of the Khmer Rouge (even Prime Minister Hun Sen was a victim, to some extent, but fortunately for Cambodians people like him were able to see the utility of working with Vietnam to rid Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge) should have as their "effective interlocuter" Cambodian(s) who were impacted upon by this terrible interlude in Cambodia's history; Cambodians who suffered need to be empowered to work through these issues.

Reach Sambath argues Dr Jarvis has so many ideas about what to do for Khmer Rouge victims - he does not specify what they are - but so does probably someone like Youk Chhang or countless other Cambodians who were directly impacted upon by the Khmer Rouge experience.

Dr Jarvis should know from her own Australian experience that, while progressive and non-racist Australians like herself have been strongly supportive of Australia's own indigenous peoples, the empowering experience for Aborginal groups has been when they can speak for themselves.

I know there are examples where ethnic groups use outside "interlocuters" effectively (eg in negotiations under the Treaty of Waitangi, in New Zealand, some Maori tribes are using the former Labour minister of finance Michael Cullen quite effectively), but these are choices made by people themselves.

There is no evidence that Dr Jarvis was selected by victims of the Khmer Rouge, although in the highly politicised case of these trials that may well be impossible.

The bottom line is that Dr Jarvis and, more importantly the court that appointed her, should revisit her appointment and seriously consider whether it was the correct one.

Shane Tarr


Send letters to: or P.O.鈥圔ox 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.



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